12 of the Best Laos Dishes to Try – What to eat in Laos

There are many things that keep me coming back to South East Asia time after time, but if I had to choose only one, it would be the food.

While the food of Thailand and Vietnam seem to get most attention around the world (and are certainly two of my favourite cuisines), Laos food may not get the acclaim it deserves. In fact, the three countries’ cuisines have influenced each other, and many dishes that most people would identify as Thai or Vietnamese actually originated in Laos. With flavours that pack a punch, there are many Laos dishes you should definitely try when you visit this delicious little country.

I’ve listed some of my favourite Laos dishes here, as well as asked some other bloggers to share their favourite Laos foods.

The Food of Laos

A night market pictures from above, just off the beach. The stalls are in red tents and there are many people walking between them.

Like many cultures around the world, food plays a huge part in the day of Laotians. I have to say, I love the Laotian way: the days revolve around food and thinking about the next meal. People constantly talk about food and often the first question upon seeing a friend or family member will be to ask if they’ve eaten.

Eating is a communal activity, and you’ll always find plenty of food if you visit a local’s house. Just as people share tapas in Spain, you’ll often find Laotians sharing dishes.

Laos dishes are usually meat-heavy, accented with plenty of herbs, chillies, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, garlic and other strongly-flavoured ingredients, meaning food in Laos is not at all subtle. Vegetables are abundant and fresh.

As a vegetarian, be careful when ordering. While a dish may not contain obvious pieces of meat, it may have been prepared with shrimp paste, fish sauce or another animal-based product.

Where to Eat in Laos

A small cafe selling fruits, juices and smoothies. There are two wooden tables with chairs outside, on each side of the door. In the window there are hanged three bunches of bananas. In front of the shop there is a yellow bicycle.

This list will share with you what to eat in Laos, but where should you eat when you’re in Laos?

There are, of course, plenty of restaurants, particularly in the major cities of Luang Prabang and Vientiane. In Laos, you can dine at hole-in-the-wall restaurants that are favourites of locals, or fine-dining establishments that elevate local flavours.

I always prefer to see where the locals are eating and follow their lead. Laos people are incredibly friendly and always willing to proudly show off their cuisine.

Don’t discount street vendors. Laos street food is delicious (but always check to see that the food is fresh and is being turned over quickly), and serves up some of the tastiest and cheapest eats.

The night markets are fantastic – the smoke-filled alleyways sizzle with fresh food cooking, the delicious smells will permeate your clothing, and the variety is mind-boggling.

The French influence in Laos can still be seen with the abundance of cafés, particularly in Vientiane and Luang Prabang. You can get decent coffee in most, as well as good food that will fuse Laos dishes with international favourites.

How to Order Food in Laos

Now that you know a bit about Laos food culture, let’s get into some helpful tips for ordering food in Laos.

It’s unlikely you’ll be able to speak much of the Laotian language when you’re visiting the country, but that shouldn’t stop you trying! Here are a few phrases to help you order food in Laos. This video can help with some of the pronunciation.

I want… – Ao…

Not Spicy – Bor ao phed

The check, please – Chek bin, kalounaa

I only eat vegetables – Koy gin daa pak

Laos Food Tours and Cooking Classes

A woman arranging vegetables on her blue plastic sheet, in the market. She is selling mostly herbs such as coriander, spring onion and dill. She is wearing blue jeans, a pink jumper and has her hair tied with a pink scrunchie

Before we dive into the best Laos dishes you should try, if you’re a foodie like me, then consider taking a food tour or cooking class when you visit Laos. It’s one of the best things to do in Laos if you want to learn more about the food and culture. I didn’t do this when I was in Laos, but I’d love to do one when I return. Here are a few options I’ve found, and they all look delicious!

Combine a street food tour and biking around Luang Prabang with this day tour. The guide will introduce you to local dishes, fruits and vegetables and explain how they’re used and eaten.

Learn how to make traditional Laos dishes during this cooking class in Luang Prabang. You’ll start the class off with a visit to the market, then work together to create flavoursome dishes.

On this tour, a local guide invites you into his home to learn about traditional Laos cuisine.

In Vientiane, Lao Experiences offers highly-rated cooking classes and market tours.

Close to the city centre of Vientiane, Tang Kin is a home-based cooking school. In small groups, you’ll learn to cook traditional Laotian food in an outdoor kitchen.

The best Laos dishes to eat when you visit Laos

1. Sticky rice

A restaurant table with food on it, with the focus of the photo being on a brown braided basket filled with white rice

Rice is one of the most important Laos dishes, and you’ll find it paired with most meals.

When I was asked if I wanted steamed rice or sticky rice at a restaurant in Laos for the first time, I didn’t know what the difference was, but on a hunch I ordered sticky rice. It was the best decision I made during my two weeks in Laos.

The sticky rice in Laos, called Khao Niaow, is served in a small bamboo basket. The glutinous rice is washed, soaked in water for more than 10 hours, then steamed and pressed into a small, hard ball before being transferred to the bamboo basket and served at room temperature.

Traditionally you eat the rice with your hands by ripping off pieces, and it use it to mop up sauces from your plate.

Laotian sticky rice contains more sugar than other rice varieties, which makes it sticky and also more nourishing because it takes longer to digest. While these facts sound very interesting, there’s only one real reason to try sticky rice in Laos: because it’s super delicious!

Recommended by Lena of Nagoya Foodie

2. Laab

A closeup of the laab dish, with pieces of meat and green leaves on top

Laab is generally considered to be the unofficial national dish of Laos. The name has many different spellings in English, including laap, larb and lahb. In addition to referring to this dish, the word “laab” can also mean “blessing” or “good luck”, so it’s often eaten at special occasions such as weddings.

Laab is often described as a “meat salad”, but in fact not all laab contains meat. Some restaurants serve a vegan version made with mushrooms or tofu. This is one of the few vegan dishes in Lao cuisine.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are also versions of laab that are made with raw meat. Eating uncooked meat in Laos poses many health risks, including bacterial infections, worms and even rabies, so it’s definitely not recommended for visitors to Laos.

To prepare laab, the main component of the dish (meat, tofu or mushrooms) is tossed in toasted, ground rice with fresh herbs, chili peppers and a garlic-flavoured lime dressing. The result is an intriguing mix of spicy, sour and salty flavours. One of the best places to try laab is Lao Kitchen, a popular restaurant in Vientiane that serves a tofu laab as well as meat versions.

Recommended by Wendy of The Nomadic Vegan

3. Tam Mak Houng (spicy papaya salad)

The colorful papaya salad on a square plate, with a green salad leaf on the side. The vegetables and fruits are shredded into long and thin white, orange and red strips

One of the most popular Laos dishes is Tam Mak Houng, or spicy papaya salad. Often confused with Som Tam – the Thai green papaya salad – Laotians believe that their (spicier and saltier) version of this salad is in fact the original one.

Tam Mak Houng is a dish that can be made quickly, as it doesn’t require many ingredients. The basis of the dish is – of course – green papaya, which is tossed with lime, chili pepper, garlic and small tomatoes, with fish sauce, salt and sugar added to taste.

You can find variations of the salad (including non-spicy one) across Laos as well as in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Recommended by Marta of BackpackersWro

4. Sai Gok (Lao sausage)

Laos dishes - Slices of sausage on a plate, served with a red sweet chili sauce and slices of red tomato and green cucumber

If there’s one Laos dish that will forever remain in my memory, it’s Lao sausage. You’ll find these smoky, flavour-packed sausages almost anywhere in Laos, usually strung up on a street vendor’s cart or in a market.

Made with minced pork, these sausages are turned into something incredible when mixed with galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime, cilantro, chilies, fish sauce and garlic, and then squished into sausage skins. The texture can often be slightly dry and crumbly, and I found them to be rarely oily.

These sausages are one of the best Laos dishes, and make for a great snack at any time of the day. You may also be offered a delicious sauce to dip slices of sausage in to, and a side of sticky rice of course.

5. Laos Phor (Fer)

A white bowl of noodle soup, topped with spring onion and green leaves

No doubt you’ve tried a bowl of Vietnam’s famous Pho, a beef noodle soup. Laos has a similar version, usually served with thin slices of beef, pork or chicken, but often with other more adventurous delicacies like tripe, liver or tongue.

You’ll usually be asked if you want thin or thick rice noodles with this dish. Like Vietnamese pho, it’s also served with sides that you can add as you like: bean sprouts, basil, cilantro, chili and limes.

I could never get consensus on the correct way to spell this dish in English. But what I do know: it’s just as delicious as the neighboring version.

6. Crispy rice cakes

Rice cakes being cooked on a griddle, on the pavement. Behind there is a basked filled with cooked rice.

My kids have various food intolerances, especially with several types of carbs, but rice is one thing they can eat and love. So, when we discovered crispy rice cakes in Laos we had to try them and were instantly hooked.

You’ll find the small rice cakes everywhere in Laos. They’re made by forming small discs of steamed sticky rice. The little tablets are then dried in the sun for a while before being quickly deep fried in hot oil, and left to dry again before finally being packed and sold.

They are very tasty (and probably jam-packed with calories). All I can say is that while exploring Luang Prabang with kids, these delicious rice cakes immediately established themselves as our favourite energy snack.

The only catch: do ask if they contain MSG (if that’s important for you). Some vendors add it; some don’t. However, we always found that we received clear and honest answers when we asked.

Recommended by Ania of The Travelling Twins

7. Khao Jee

Piles of small baguette breads on a table, underneath which is advertised the

Laos’s French colonial past is clearly on display with the telltale aroma of the fresh baguettes that are sold on every corner of every town and city in Laos.

The best way to eat these baguettes is to order Khao Jee, a sandwich similar to Banh Mi. Makeshift vendors slice baguettes in half lengthways and then stuff them with chicken, pork or sausage, pate, carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, chillies and cilantro.

These are a great, cheap snack or lunch – we usually bought a huge sandwich for a little over $1 and found that one was enough for the both of us at lunchtime.

8. Khao Soi

A bowl of red noodle soup topped with brown mince meat and green herbs

I always thought that Khao Soi was a Thai dish, so I was surprised to find it everywhere in Laos. Of course, Laos has put their own spin on the dish, and you won’t find it cooked it with coconut milk here.

This soup dish is made with wide rice noodles (traditionally, the rice noodles are also made by hand), which are covered with a rich broth, usually chicken. It’s then topped with a tomato-based sauce, charcoal-cooked minced pork, chilies and herbs.

It’s one of the most warming, comforting Laos dishes you’ll try.

9. Mok Pa

A pile of green banana leaf parcels, in the market

“Mok” means banana leaf and “pa” means fish in Laotian, so you can probably guess what this dish is.

While Laos is a landlocked country, it’s filled with rivers and streams that produce plenty of tasty fish. Mok Pa is a whole fish that’s wrapped in a banana leaf, tied with string and steamed or roasted over hot coals. The fish is usually covered with flavoursome ingredients like lemongrass, fish sauce, chillies and kaffir lime leaves.

If it’s cooked well (which it usually is), the fish will be soft and buttery. Mok Pa is (of course), served with sticky rice.

10. Meat Skewers

A man surrounded by a large grill, with bowls of different type of meat skewers around him. He is grilling a lot of different dishes at one time.

I’m not sure that skewers are a traditional Laos dish, but they’re a great snack that can be found in the corridors of the smoky night markets.

Bamboo sticks skewer all types of meat – chicken, beef, pork, tongue, heart, fish, tripe. But not just meat, you’ll find all sorts of vegetables threaded on. You name it, you can get it on a stick in Laos. Pick out a few skewers, then fill your plate to overflowing with vegetables, salads and spring rolls. This’ll cost you about $2 or so, so it’s a bargain price for a filling dinner.

11. Fresh Fruit and Smoothies

A fruit stand, with many different colorful fruits on display, such as watermelon, bananas, pineapple, dragon fruit.

Another Laos dish that’s probably not entirely traditional but nonetheless delicious is the variety of fruits that you’ll find in Laos.

Mangos, coconuts, dragon fruit, pineapple and avocados spill out of shops everywhere, particularly in the more touristy parts of Vientiane and Luang Prabang. You can either eat these fruits as they are, or have them whizzed up into a delicious, refreshing fruit smoothie.

Alternatively, try something a little less healthy (and not at all traditional): you’ll see Oreo shakes everywhere! And they’re just as delicious as they sound.

12. Beerlao

A closeup of a bottle of Beerlao beer, next to a mug filled with the golden drink.

Ok, so I’ve cheated a little bit here. Beer obviously isn’t food, but it is something you’ll always seen paired with food in Laos. Most of these dishes listed here are great washed down with an ice-cold Beerlao. This beer holds the majority of the market share in Laos, is super cheap and is pretty tasty.

Most Laotians drink their Beerlao in a glass with a few cubes of ice. Do the same for a true local experience!

Additional Laos Dishes to Try

A Laos salad, made with many different vegetables and drizzled with a brown dressing

Laos cuisine is so varied and there are so many traditional dishes that I couldn’t possibly list them all here. If you’re looking for even more tasty Laos food to try when you visit, here are a few more options:

  • Kaipen (fried seaweed)
  • Laab Ped (minced duck salad)
  • Khao Poon (soup with fermented noodles)
  • Khao Poon (spicy noodle soup)
  • Or Lam (Lao stew)
  • Sien Savanh (Lao beef jerky)
  • Paa Tod (crispy catfish)
  • Yall Dib (fresh spring rolls)
  • Khao Piak Sen (Lao noodle soup)
  • Jaew Bong (hot pepper dip)
  • Naem Khao(crispy coconut rice)

About the author: Rebecca Arnold blogs at Rebecca and the World, sharing itineraries to help travellers save time when planning their own trips. She believes that exploring food is one of the best ways to learn about a culture.

Disclaimer: Some of the links on this website are “affiliate links.” This means that if you click on the link and do a purchase, I will receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost for you. This helps me keep my website running and continue to share my travelling knowledge with you. I thank you for booking your flights or hotels using the links on my website. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.

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17 thoughts on “12 of the Best Laos Dishes to Try – What to eat in Laos

  1. Joanna says:

    Of course the rice is cooked! Who would eat uncooked rice? To steam rice means to cook it under hot vapors, rather than boil it in water.

  2. Eric Gamble says:

    Oh my where do I begin! This all sounds so amazing. I loved all the street food I ate in Thailand so I can only imagine how good it also is in Laos. I too had no idea that Khao Soi was also a big deal in Laos…I ate my weight in Khao Soi in Thailand! With regards to the other food the Meat skewers with a crispy rice cake sound like the best food to get on the street while walking around! Cant wait to go in person!

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